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Canine Parvovirus: What Dog Parents Need to Know

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If your pet has diarrhea paired with vomiting or loss of appetite, this is considered an “ORANGE” – or urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend having your pet see your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within the next 12 hours. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!


Parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that is spread by direct dog-to-dog contact and by contact with surfaces contaminated with even trace amounts of infected feces such as kennels, food and water bowls, and bedding. Unfortunately, parvovirus is very hardy and resistant to a wide range of temperatures and humidity. In other words – hot weather does not kill parvovirus! So, if your dog goes to dog parks, doggy daycares, or other dog-friendly hot spots, it’s important to know the symptoms and how to keep your dog safe! 

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Which dogs are affected? 

Parvovirus can affect all dogs; however, puppies and unvaccinated dogs are at greatest risk. Young puppies are very susceptible to the virus because the natural immunity they receive from mom may wear off before their own immune systems have matured enough to combat the infection.  

What are the symptoms of parvovirus? 

Symptoms typically develop 4-7 days after exposure. Parvovirus affects the gastrointestinal tract and causes: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Severe and often bloody diarrhea 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness 

Fluid loss from vomiting and diarrhea can also lead to severe dehydration and shock. Also, significant immune compromise and sepsis (life-threatening systemic infection) can rapidly develop.  

Following the onset of symptoms, if left untreated, dogs can quickly succumb to the virus and die.  

How does the vet diagnose parvovirus? 

A simple fecal test is available to rapidly diagnose parvovirus. Additional lab work can help determine just how ill a dog is. The most concerning findings include: low white blood cell count, low blood sugar, or associated organ dysfunction.  

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A dog with parvovirus receiving nebulizer treatment from Courtney, one of our veterinary technicians.

How is parvovirus treated? 

Once parvovirus is diagnosed, prompt treatment is necessary. No specific medication will eliminate the virus. Rather, medical care is focused on supporting the body through the infection, including fluid therapy, medications to manage vomiting and diarrhea, preventing the risk of secondary infections, and keeping the pet comfortable.  

Hospitalized care is usually needed for a patient to survive, and death can still occur despite aggressive treatment. However, with appropriate care, survival rates can be as high as 90%. The length of time in-hospital is variable but can range from one day to over a week, with the average stay being 3-4 days.

What precautions do veterinary teams take to prevent spread? 

Because of how highly contagious parvovirus is, special precautions must be taken to protect other patients in-hospital. At Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, dogs with history and symptoms consistent with parvovirus are tested immediately upon arrival. A team member wearing protective gear administers the test while keeping the patient separate from all other dogs.  

If the test is positive, and the dog is hospitalized, the pet is housed in a special ward where it can be cared for while remaining isolated from the patient population. Team members wear protective gear when handling the patient for treatment, nursing care, and bathroom breaks. A dog with parvovirus does not encounter other hospitalized patients, and all surfaces that the patient touches are routinely disinfected.  

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What should I do when my dog with parvovirus returns home after hospitalization?  

The virus is shed in feces during the active phase of the infection and for at least two weeks after symptoms resolve. Therefore, following discharge from the hospital, continued home isolation is important. A dog recovering from parvovirus should not be allowed to interact with any other dog (vaccinated or unvaccinated) for at least two weeks after symptoms have completely resolved.  

All surfaces the dog touches at home, including bedding, food/water bowls, leashes, and toys, must also be routinely disinfected. Parvovirus is very hardy in the environment and can survive for months to years if not properly disinfected. Most household cleaners will not kill the virus; however, bleach (diluted with water in a 1:30 ratio) is effective at killing the virus when left to soak on surfaces for at least ten minutes. Prior to disinfecting the surface, all organic material (such as food or feces) must be removed.  

How can I prevent my dog from getting parvovirus? 

Vaccination, avoiding high-risk areas, and appropriate cleaning are key factors in the prevention of parvovirus. A series of puppy vaccinations are administered to help protect against parvovirus, and adult dogs should be kept up-to-date on their parvovirus vaccinations as well.  

Until a puppy has received its full series of vaccinations, caution should be used when socializing the puppy with other dogs with unknown vaccine histories or environments with poor hygiene practices. Interaction between a puppy and another dog with gastrointestinal symptoms should be avoided. 

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If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s potential exposure to parvovirus or any suspicious symptoms, contact your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital. If your dog needs to be vaccinated, schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian as soon as possible.   

More Reading: 

Kayla Hanson, DVM, DACVECC, cHPV, cVMA, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, Fast Track Triage, color-coded triage system, pet emergency, Twin Cities emergency vet, Minnesota emergency vet, Saint Paul emergency vet, Oakdale emergency vet


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